By Eda Cleary –
“Why do sheep remain silent?” is the title of Germany’s most important political bestseller, written by psychology professor Rainer Mausfeld (2018) and read by millions of readers (Warum schweigen die Lämmer?). There he analyses in simple and profound language the dismantling of traditional democracy in Western Europe at the hands of neoliberal elites calling themselves ‘centre’ and ‘moderate’. In his study he points out that this “center” has become the “most radical anti-democratic political force” of modern times by delivering a deadly blow against the right to free expression of majorities by installing governments for the benefit of the richest minority through popular vote.
His book reflects on the changes that led to this oligarchization and corruption of politics in democracy. Historically, Mausfeld places this shift in Europe at the beginning of the 1970s, when the population began to lose confidence in the traditional parties due to massive unemployment and the drop in economic growth. The tripartite political model (State-employee businessmen) ends, the big traditional parties begin to lose membership and the link between the party leaderships and their voters is weakened. As a consequence of this, these parties turn towards the State, agree to distribute the public resources that will guarantee their survival, and renounce to compete for ideas. In this way, “cartel parties” (a concept coined by Mair and Katz) emerge in the image and similarity of economic cartels that manipulate the market by setting prices between competitors behind the scenes to the detriment of consumers. With this, already during the 90’s, political defeats lose relevance, there is an ideological homogenization between conservatives, socialists and social democrats and strong monopolistic structures arise in the power holding, where workers have no place. In short, there is a “political revolt of the elites against the people” that can be summed up in a single idea: only the elite is capable of governing and deciding for the people, because the latter are incompetent.
The strategy to undermine free thought consisted of systematically eroding the natural resistance instinct of the human being against authoritarian submission and making him politically and electorally apathetic. The new neoliberal elite began to practice without scruple an unknown and public “disdain to the people” that is translated in its infantilization and intellectual disqualification made face to face: “you are nobody, the market is everything”, “you don’t understand anything, let the intelligent govern you”.
According to Mausfeld, the population has been indoctrinated around a central thought: the welfare of society can only be achieved if 1% of the richest are free to enrich themselves in their infinite “talent” of “generating wealth” and are not “hindered” by the ignorant masses.
To achieve such success, the elites defined “forbidden zones of thought” under penalty of condemning to media ostracism those who dared to touch “undesirable” subjects until there arose an authentic historical amnesia on the political struggles of the people in favor of the construction of a more just society. People forgot the reasons why it is worth fighting in politics and retreated to their private world. Research centers, NGOs, universities, many social leaders were co-opted and their intellectual capacity for reaction was effectively “blocked” through massive propaganda, but sold as news, as real facts. In this context, the street protests lost their strength, because the system simply did not respond to these demands and in case of obvious corporate abuses the judiciary ruled in favor of the “intelligent”.
The effectiveness of the “political revolt of the elites” was so great that they managed to convince the majority of the population that those who protested did so because they did not accept the goodness and wonders of the neoliberal paradise or simply because they were “losers”, “disposable” subjects. Even the physical repression of the opponents of the past was very expensive and was replaced by the psychological repression (softpower) led by the media against any attempt to construct political alternatives that could appear plausible to the victims of the economic, environmental and spiritual neoliberal depredation. They resorted to mockery, trivialization, disqualification and the denial and/or deformation of historical facts allowing the lie to operate as truth and in this way it was possible to decree that the only rational and modern left was the one that recognized the superiority of neoliberal ideas. All the others were pariahs and enemies of welfare.
As this policy provoked the rejection of certain sectors of society and environmental or social justice parties emerged, the monopoly system of power based on “cartel parties” was able to develop an “educational” tactic (Detterbeck) against the possible emergence of rival parties to co-opt them. They opened themselves to the possibility of negotiation to incorporate them into the distribution of fiscal resources, the cession of ministries, high-level posts and others according to the degree of willingness to support the neoliberal political and economic strategy in all the guilds and institutions of the political system. The “cartel parties” naturally began to govern in conjunction with business and financial associations and grassroots social organizations or rebel unions were expelled from the formal public sphere of decisions.
The spirit of this “new way of governing” is clearly understood when former social democratic German chancellor Gerhard Schröder declared at the end of the 1990s: “There is no left or right-wing political economy, but only a good or bad political economy”.
But so much wonder could not last for so long. Europe suffered the ravages of the global financial crises and the “inefficiency” and “low technical quality” in the political and economic decisions of the “cartels” in favor of the rich became evident because it was causing a dangerous social erosion of the majorities. The population was burdened with the catastrophic effects of elite democracy and social cutbacks as the rich became richer and richer. The “thematic blockade” in the public debate and the “forbidden political zones” began to crack down, therefore popular indignation had practically no parliamentary representation. In other words, the population was “outside the system” and condemned to start from zero.
In this chess of impotence, the indignant population grew, in such a way that, among other factors, neo-Nazi, fascist, xenophobic and nationalist movements once again burst into Europe. The “yellow jackets” in France wanted to change the “shepherd dog” as the only strategy of change, without understanding that Macron’s departure did not even manage to scratch the “cartelization” of elitist democracy. These real social upheavals only indicate that the neoliberal ideal of the silent sheep guided by its shepherd in a framework of dismantling democracy is reaching dangerous and uncertain limits.
Professor Mausfeld states in his book that the reconquest of the legitimacy of social demands, the elimination of “party cartels” and the unrestricted restoration of freedom of expression are essential for a democratic recovery. And this goal can only be achieved by the sheep that must once again act as the true “sovereign” of democracy that is permanently opposed to the lying and totalitarian “cartels”.
Eda Cleary, May 2019 – This article has been published in Spanish in Le Monde Diplomatique in Spanish, May 2019, In: https://www.lemondediplomatique.cl/Por-que-callan-las-ovejas-en-Chile.html
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